Bringing your baby home for the first time is wonderful, joyful, and often times terrifying. If you're experiencing motherhood for the first time, the sleep deprivation and the constant neediness of a newborn can come as a bit of a shock. Couple that with raging postpartum hormones, and new motherhood can be a wild ride. Doulas, who are trained in supporting mothers before, during, and after birth, can give be an excellent source of guidance and support during this tumultuous time. There are some things experienced doulas want every new mom to know that can make life so much more manageable.
I spoke with Karla Pippa, the founder of NYC Birth Village, and Ruth Callahan, the owner and director of Doula Care, to get their perspective. Both women believe that new motherhood is extra tough these days due to how much pressure women put on themselves to live up to the perfect images they see on social media. While these early weeks and months aren't as glamorous as some people make them out to be, the reality is incredibly rewarding.
If you keep these six doula tips in mind, you just might find new motherhood much more manageable — despite all the stress and exhaustion that come along with it.
1. There's no right way to do things
New moms often are riddled with doubt about their parenting abilities, and worry about doing everything just right. “They feel very insecure and need a lot of reassurance, and they’re really shocked about that, about how vulnerable they feel… about becoming a new parent,” says Callahan. That doubt and confusion is totally normal, according to Pippa, and something you'll overcome as you develop your own parenting style. “The thing that I really like to tell moms… is to try to keep from thinking from term of good versus bad, and instead think about things like, ‘Is this working for me and my family?’”
2. Being flexible is key
There's a saying about the best laid plans often going awry, and that is highly applicable to new parenthood. "There are certain visions that we have coming into motherhood that will quickly need to change based upon who this little one is, from where they like to sleep to how they like to be held to how they are planning to be fed… Remaining flexible is incredibly important as a new parent,” says Pippa. Being able to go with the flow will go along way toward keeping your stress levels in check.
3. You'll need your mom tribe
If you feel totally clueless before the birth of your first child, you're not the only one — and there's a logical reason for it. “I think it’s so helpful for parents to realize the contrast in how parenting has changed in the last few generations. There was a time when we lived much closer to our extended families, we had experience with babies... and then when it came time for us to give birth, those family members were there to support us," Pippa says. If you don't have lots of family around to support you, start forming a new tribe to help you when you're struggling. It takes a village, after all.
Callahan also urges new moms to get out and spend time with people in real life, and not just on Facebook. “There’s nothing quite like face to face, and people tend not to do that anymore, but we really encourage that.” It's easy for people to make their lives look perfect online (like all those moms in your Facebook group whose babies magically sleep straight through the night and breastfeed with no issues), but in person, you're more likely make a real connection.
4. You need to take care of yourself, too
Moms often struggle to make time for themselves when there's just so much to be done for their child, but the benefits of self-care are so worth it. “We find that when mothers are doing well, everything else goes better,” say Pippa. Getting enough rest, eating well, and staying hydrated will help make you the best mom you can be.
5. You should be prepared for breastfeeding issues
Breastfeeding difficulties are so common — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that about 60 percent of new moms are forced to give up sooner then they intended due to breastfeeding challenges. Moms who are determined to press on often turn to their pediatricians for advice. But Pippa says they're not always the best place to look for support. “Pediatricians are not lactation professionals. If they are, that’s very rare," she says. "Pediatricians are there to make sure the baby thrives, but are not necessarily thinking about how to get the breastfeeding relationship established.” She recommends working with your pediatrician and a lactation consultant if have any issues with nursing.
6. Everyone feels overwhelmed in the beginning
If you find yourself feeling a little shell shocked after bringing baby home, don't beat yourself up about it. “Everybody hears all this information, and reads all this information, but I think becoming a new parent and experiencing having a newborn, it’s not an intellectual experience," says Callahan. In other words, there's just no way to fully grasp what it's like to be at a newborn's beck and call at all hours of the day and night, and you're going to end up overwhelmed and exhausted no much how much prepping or planning you've done. It happens to all new moms and dads.